New Report from the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board on the Integration of Data from Early Childhood Programs and Services

Report from the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board on the Integration of Data from Early Childhood Programs and Services

By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Early Learning and Charles Homer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Human Services Policy

Today the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education (ED) released a joint report that may be useful for EHDI programs to use existing data from early childhood programs to improve services for young children and families. The report covers key considerations when states integrate data and highlights progress in eight states that are actively developing and using early childhood integrated data systems (ECIDS).  It also discusses technical assistance, includes resources available to states for ECIDS development, and reflects on lessons learned from additional states when approaching this work.

States and localities are investing in high-quality early education because of the demonstrated short- and long-term benefits of these investments. However, because the landscape of early learning programs and services is often fragmented, putting together an integrated data system is challenging. But the state case studies show that doing this is worth the time and effort. When data are integrated across programs, policy makers can determine the availability of services for young children and families, understand the quality of those services, and measure impacts.  Integrated data can also streamline the administration and quality of early childhood programs for children and families.

The report highlights examples of these issues in specific states, including:

  • Minnesota’s process for engaging stakeholders;
  • Georgia’s use of data from their integrated system;
  • North Carolina’s progress integrating Head Start data;
  • Maryland’s work to improve and integrate child care data;
  •  Pennsylvania’s integration of early childhood special education data (IDEA Part C and Part B, Section 619);
  • Utah’s efforts to link health data with early learning data;
  • Rhode Island’s efforts to link universal screening data with other early learning data; and
  • Oregon’s development of a registry for the early learning workforce.

The report discusses the importance of developing a clear purpose and vision for the ECIDS at the state level– a vision that is aspirational, describes how the state will use the data to improve outcomes for young children, and is broad enough to expand and develop as new sources of data and experience grows. It also discusses ways to meaningfully engage a range of stakeholders throughout the data integration process, including data owners, data users, parents, data vendors, foundations or other funders, advocacy groups, and professional organizations. Some stakeholders may become members of a data governance body, while others will work with this body, which is responsible for developing policies and procedures related to data management, quality, privacy, security, and access.

The report also highlights the importance of carefully reviewing any vendor contracts to manage data to ensure that the local programs retain ownership of their data, including the ability to easily pull reports from vendor software for integration and analysis. The report emphasizes the importance of ensuring compliance with all applicable privacy laws and protecting data from unauthorized use or access throughout the process of building and using an ECIDS.

For an ECIDS to be useful for decision-makers, the data must be of high-quality and states must have the technical capacity to analyze the data and convey it to stakeholders in a readily understood format. States can work with local programs to support data quality and, where possible, align data definitions and reporting requirements across programs and systems. States can also support efforts to build their own capacity as well as local program capacity to meaningfully use data. Finally, the report suggests that states capitalize on lessons learned from other data integration efforts in the education and health fields, and to strive to link broad types of data into their ECIDS from an array of early childhood programs and services, in order to gain a more complete picture of the services children receive.

HHS and ED offer a variety of technical assistance and other resources to assist states in integrating early childhood data (see Appendix A of the joint report). As exemplified by those profiled in this report, states across the country are working hard to expand data integration efforts, yet much work remains. The Departments  encourage states to continue to build their capacity to use data to answer key policy questions, improve program quality, meet children’s diverse needs, and ultimately ensure that our nation’s youngest learners are more prepared to reach their full potential.

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